For those of you that don’t know, Ramona Flowers is the main love interest in the cult movie, Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Based on a (supposedly much better) series of comic books, the film deals with the titular loser’s attempts to win the girl of his dreams by beating up all her exes. While the film focuses on Scott’s bumbling nerdiness more than anything else, Ramona is a very strong character – she’s an iconic character with a look that’s been cosplayed more times than I can count. The film is really what catapulted her character into the spotlight, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on (for the time being – I haven’t ruled out looking at the comic book version of her character).
But does she live up to her reputation? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
The only real agency that Ramona shows as a character is when she shows up in Toronto, right at the beginning of the movie. It’s revealed later in the movie that she came there in order to get away from a bad break-up – so bad that she had to cross international borders. But apart from that, she isn’t really in control of her own life, and that’s mainly down to the premise of the movie. Scott must defeat all of Ramona’s exes in battle if he wants to date her – the film says outright that she can’t fight any of them or else it ‘won’t count’. Instead of sending her exes packing by herself, she has to rely on her boyfriend to stop them interfering – no matter what she does, her life is always going to be under someone else’s control, and it really doesn’t matter whether it’s her boyfriend or one of her exes pulling the strings.
SCORE SO FAR: 0
- Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
Not much is revealed about Ramona’s character. She’s an enigmatic and charismatic presence throughout the film, but nothing is revealed about the things she believes in, what she wants to do with her life, or what she likes to do for fun. She’s painfully cool throughout most of the film – so cool that we never see her enjoy herself and she doesn’t work towards anything more taxing than raising one sardonic eyebrow.
SCORE SO FAR: 0
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
Ramona’s personality is largely consistent; throughout most of the film she’s aloof, sarcastic, and more than a little distant. The same cannot be said for her skills. While she uses Subspace (a space-time thingie that lets her get around quicker) in a pretty consistent manner, her fighting skills oscillate all over the place. Most of the time, while Scott is pummelling her ex-boyfriends she sits on the sidelines, which makes the audience think maybe she’s not such a good fighter. But of course, we’re all wrong.
Out of nowhere – and in the only fight that pits Scott against a girl – she reveals some incredible fighting skills, somehow managing to hold her own against a strangely sentient-looking chain belt with the help of a giant hammer. In this fight scene her opponent can barely land a punch on her and almost makes mincemeat out of Scott – but in the final fight, when they’re up against Ramona’s really evil ex-boyfriend, Gideon, all she manages to do is get one hit in before he sends her flying, even though she was holding off Scott’s ex-girlfriend Knives very well only seconds before. Now, this can be chalked up to the mind-control chip he implanted in her head (hey, I said he was the evil one) but that leaves me wondering how she would have been able to even attack Gideon in the first place. It’s much more likely that the movie producers wanted to watch some decent girl fights, and needed a reason to establish Gideon as the worst ex of them all – and they did this by making her fighting skills fluctuate depending on the demands of the plot.
SCORE SO FAR: 0.5
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
Actually, it’s impossible to describe Ramona’s character without mentioning her legion of exes. Much like Lizzie Bennet, her story is so tied up with her dating history that it’s impossible to separate it from her character. The best anyone can do is describe her personality, but that doesn’t cover her trajectory through the story or what she’s trying to achieve.
SCORE SO FAR: 0.5
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Ramona doesn’t really make any decisions at all, and those she does make are solely to do with her love life. She spends most of the film being moved through the plot like a piece on a chessboard; her own actions rarely move the plot along. There’s really only one moment when she influences the plot at all, but I’m saving that discussion for later – for now, it’s sufficient to focus on her motivation, which is always romantic.
SCORE SO FAR: 0.5
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
Ramona’s character is pretty stagnant throughout most of the film. She doesn’t really change or develop during her time on screen – for most of the movie she remains as cool and mysterious as ever.
However, it’s implied that her character has changed and developed before the film starts. When she’s relaying her romantic history and describing her past relationships, it’s pretty clear that they have affected and changed her behaviour. But this isn’t really enough, because this is character growth that we’ve just been told about, not actually witnessed. Most of the behaviour we see doesn’t portray this kind of growth, so I’m forced to withhold the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 0.5
- Does she have a weakness?
Ramona does have a few weaknesses that affect the way she interacts with other characters, but these aren’t always addressed as weaknesses by the other characters. She can be cold and callous towards other characters – not just her exes, but also to Scott, who she really only seems to tolerate – and often pushes people away, preferring to play her cards close to her chest. These are never seen as weaknesses by the rest of the characters; instead, they are seen as aspects of her personality that only serve to make her cooler, more mysterious, and more interesting. In that respect, I can only give her half a point.
SCORE SO FAR: 1
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
Ramona can influence the plot simply by being in the story – all she has to do is wait for some guy to fall for her and the plot will happen around her. As I’ve already discussed, this doesn’t count as agency, because this is one of those scenarios where you could replace Ramona with a lamp and the story would continue as normal.
The only real time she influences the plot by making a decision is seriously undermined. After the fourth battle, Ramona and Scott fight – he makes a pretty nasty comment about her sexual history and she dumps him, saying that he’s just another evil ex waiting to happen. This isn’t a bad call on Ramona’s part. Seeing as she’s been in an abusive relationship – and that according to domestic abuse experts, abuse can often start with verbal stuff before it escalates – it’s actually very laudable for her to decide to put her own interests first and get out of a relationship which may have the potential to turn nasty. Except that’s all undermined when she does this:
Just before she breaks up with Scott, she rubs the back of her neck and a high, metallic whine can be heard (if you listen carefully). We find out later in the movie that Gideon – the evilest of all the evil exes – has implanted a chip in the back of Ramona’s head that controls her behaviour. It’s implied in the scene – and outright stated in the director’s commentary – that this is the moment when Gideon activates the chip and begins controlling Ramona. What this means is that the only moment when she really takes control of her own life – and the plot – is ACTUALLY NOT EVEN HER AT ALL. GODDAMMIT, PILGRIM.
SCORE SO FAR: 1
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
The movie version of Ramona is a conglomerate of stereotypes. She’s a fickle young woman who spends a lot of time on her looks (come on, you know that hair dye must take ages to fix up properly), she has absolutely no interests or goals outside her love life and the way the film ends implies that the only way for her to find true happiness is to settle down with a nice young man. However, there’s one cliché that she embodies almost to the letter: Ramona is a variation on the now-infamous Manic Pixie Dream Girl. For the uninitiated, this means that her sole purpose in the story is to garner the hero’s romantic interest, get him out of whatever rut he was stuck in and inspire him to live life to the fullest.
This is exactly what she does. She has no real purpose outside her relationships, no goals or beliefs that give her another function in the story than ‘designated love interest’. The only difference between her and other Manic Pixie Dream Girls is that they are usually brimming with energy and insufferably twee: Ramona is far too cool for any of that nonsense, so she contents herself with cryptic statements and sardonic eyebrow-raising. She’s never a character in her own right – she may be central to the story, but she functions like a satellite through the whole film, orbiting around the male characters like a moon with interesting hair.
This actually has some really unfortunate implications to it. It implies that relationships are the be-all and end-all for both men and women, that women exist only to make men’s lives better, and that men are projects that can be fixed if you love them enough. None of these stereotypes are relevant or helpful to anyone, so she fails this round SO HARD.
SCORE SO FAR: 1
- How does she relate to other female characters?
Ramona doesn’t relate to many other female characters. The only relationships we see are her animosity with her ex-girlfriend, Roxie, and Scott’s ex-girlfriend, Knives, and neither of these are given any real depth. Roxie is treated just like the rest of Ramona’s exes, and the tension with Knives is brushed aside very quickly at the end of the movie, even though Knives has aggressively hated Ramona through most of the film. Neither of this relationships are realistic or fleshed out, so I’m withholding the point.
FINAL SCORE: 1/10
Ramona is an engaging presence on film, but when you get right down to it, a lot of the basic development necessary to build a good, strong character just isn’t there. She doesn’t influence the plot, her story arc revolves completely around her relationships with various guys, and there isn’t really an element to her character that sets her apart from her status as ‘the cool girl that everyone wants’. She’s pretty, she’s cool, she’s mysterious, but she isn’t a properly developed character.
Part of this may well be because of the limitations of the traditional movie adaptation – if a character isn’t the main focus of a story, and if there’s a limited running time, it’s always going to be more difficult to develop that character to the same extent as you could in a book series. It looks like this might be what’s happened with Ramona’s character here – from what I’ve heard about the comics, it seems like the film adaptation didn’t really do her character justice.
Next week, I’ll be looking at one of my childhood favourites. Sailor Moon, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.